Egypt’s state of emergency law, which has existed for the past 31 years, is expected to officially end Friday.
Sarah Leah Whitson, director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa division, said the government has often used the law as a tyrannical tool against Egyptians for the last three decades.
“We are delighted to hear, finally, that this much hated [and] widely abused law is going to expire. Good riddance to a law that has been used to persecute Egyptians for no good reason for so many decades,” said Whitson.
“Fundamentally, this is a law that allows, and has allowed, the government to detain people without charge for months, years and even decades, and to also try them in the so-called emergency courts that have very few of the protections that are required for detainees.”
The emergency law was implemented following the 1981 assassination of President Anwar Sadat.
Analysts say the measure provides the government sweeping powers which enable security agencies to arrest and indefinitely detain individuals without charge, censure the media, as well as ban protests.
Pro-democracy activists, who brought down long-time leader Hosni Mubarak’s presidency following protests, have demanded an end to the law. The army, which took the reins of government following Mubarak’s resignation, promised to bring the emergency law to an end.
Whitson underscored the significance of allowing the law to expire.
“What it means for the ordinary Egyptian is an end to the days when police or security forces could put him in jail and throw away the key without ever bringing charges against him, or by prosecuting him through these deeply flawed security courts,” continued Whitson.
“It means a level of security and guarantees that, for the government to jail someone, they need to have evidence, it needs to be brought before a judge, and it needs to be part of a regular judicial procedure with guarantees for defendants, for example, access to a lawyer.”
Some observers expressed security concerns following the expiration of the emergency law. They said the country could be left in a vacuum. But, Whitson said those assertions are erroneous.
“I think that reflects a misunderstanding of the very strong laws that already exist in Egypt. Criminal codes, for example, that gives the government plenty of authority to jail people who are suspected of committing criminal acts. And, that is what the government should be relying on. And, it should be trying people in regular civilian courts, not special security courts.”
Supporters of the emergency law warn its expiration could mean an upsurge of criminal activities across Egypt. But, in a televised broadcast, the military announced it will “continue to carry its national responsibility in protecting the country until the transfer of power is over,” as the country prepares for a presidential run-off vote.